I was walking around the grocery store the other day when I heard a young teen trying to convince her mum. She kept saying over and over, “kids have a voice” “kids have an opinion, you know”. To me, it looked like mum was just humouring her, even teasing her which I didn’t think was very productive. But regardless of that family dynamics (you never can really tell as you go about your business how a family really relates), the words kept going around in my head: Kids have a voice, kids have an opinion.
Do we listen to our kids when they are trying to express their opinion?
When our children are young we have the responsibility of teaching and training – not just their life skills but their values, their character and in doing so we shape their belief system. As they grow older we need to give them the freedom to express their belief system. We express our belief system by either talking about it or letting it direct the choices we make. It is hard sometimes to listen to the kids say something that may be out of tune with our own value system but delivering a lecture or prohibiting them outright to talk about it is not going to help them grow and develop.
It’s Important to Let Teens talk about their Beliefs
Parenting teen-age children is all about talking – talking – talking. You thought toddlers talked a lot!! It is so important that teen-age children talk to you about their beliefs because it is as they show you what is on their heart you can see what training and teaching you need to continue with. It is as they make choices (based on their belief system) that you will have natural consequences to use as a teaching/training opportunity.
When I say “beliefs” I’m not just talking about whether they believe in Jesus or not though that is obviously important, but they need to have beliefs about who they are, about to importance of other people, about working, about societal values, about money, about dress code, about marriage, about danger/risk – about everything! What they believe will direct their actions so it is good to know where they are at. (Their beliefs on these things will come from their relationship with Jesus – so in that sense it isn’t separated)
It isn’t that our teaching/training is over – not by a long shot – it is just that it has to become more like a partnership – we are working with the teen to help them mature.
Don’t Drill with Questions, Engage with them Instead
Asking questions is a great way to stimulate conversation – but our heart has to be one of interest not checking up on our kids. If we have that attitude our questions will come out like the Spanish Inquisition. We aren’t drilling our kids, but rather getting to know them. Any influence that we will have over our teenage children will come from our relationship with them. Do they know we want to work with them to help them be the best they can be, or do they think we think we are still the boss of them? And to be sure, there are still areas of authority that we must practice, and they need to respect, but ultimately our relationship needs to be built on knowing and understanding, loving and caring for each other – them towards us, and us towards them.
In our family we enjoy conversation over the dinner table. We try to make opportunity for all to share though it is tricky to manage sometimes as some individuals are more opinionated than others – but there is another opportunity to teach and encourage them, that yes, they do have an opinion, they do have a voice, but so do others and we need to always be on the lookout for the others around us. If you don’t have this happening in your home, then one thing you can do is take to the table something that can generate discussion; a newspaper clipping, something you read/saw on the internet, an experience you had, a Bible verse or character definition you’ve been thinking about.
Keep our Attitude Right as they Learn to voice their Opinion
We need to make sure we have time to give to our teens, time where we are emotionally able to give to them. The end of the day, when we are tired, may not be the best time to talk about something you are going to struggle with. Be honest with your teen – tell them that now is not a good time, but be sure to commit to another time. Then again, sometimes we just need to rise above our own tiredness for the sake of the other person. This is other-centeredness, and an opportunity to tell our teen that they are special and important to us. Some issues just have to be discussed NOW!!
Do you have the heart attitude that you can learn from your teenager? I have learnt lots from my kids. As they share their opinions, they are teaching me the way they think, their values and the things that are close to their heart. They challenge me in the way I think, the way I understand scripture and the way I communicate to different people. We don’t know it all and we need to be humble enough to acknowledge that.
Our children need to have an opinion about things around them. If you don’t respect that – at least enough to listen to it – then it will be squashed or it will squirt out as rebellion. We don’t want timid and uncertain kids; neither do we want rebellious kids. We want kids who will willingly share their opinions and thoughts with us, listen to our opinions and thoughts and to be open to learning from us. Respecting them doesn’t mean that we agree with them, or that we will even not try and change their mind – respect is simply recognition that they are fully human, that they deserve to be listened to and spoken to with consideration.
Over to you:
How do you handle your kids/teens having an opinion, especially if it is different to yours?
What does your Child Believe? Heart focus parenting is about teaching our children beliefs and values,training their character and preparing them to make wise choices in their life.
Teaching our Kids to Stand up and Speak: There are plenty of family life situations that can teach our kids the skills to speak in public.
The Importance of Communication when Expecting Obedience – with a bonus download parent guide to help you talk to your teens about obedience (tip: obedience must look different as our kids grow older.)